Irene of Athens (Empress of the Byzantine Empire)

Irene of AthensLethal and beautiful, one of the most evil women in history but also one of the most influential.

Her common name was Irene Sarantapechaina, she was born  to a noble family in Athens; but she became an orphan at a young age, her uncle took her under his wing and using his political influences, he helped her to secure a an advantageous marriage.

The Capital of the Byzantine Empire was Constantinople (modern day Istanbul), and it was ruled by Emperor Constantine V, the emperor’s only son, Leo IV, was the heir to the throne.

According to legend Leo was a very religious man who seemed more interested in spirituality than in women. This was of big concern to his father who needed his son to procreate a heir to the throne of Byzantium who would continue his lineage.

Worried for his son disdain for women, Constantine V organized a “bride show” (some kind of beauty pageant VIII century style),  the most beautiful women of the empire were invited to parade and meet the young prince in order for him to chose a bride (this may remind you to the Bachelor TV Show).

After meeting all those beautiful women, he chose the most attractive in order to please his father. The woman he chose was Irene of Athens who  then was barely 17 years old.

Irene was always scared of loosing her new status, she knew that in order to secure her position she needed to bear a child a soon as possible, at age 19, she gave birth to her only son who was named Constantine VI in honor  to his grand father Constantine V.

However a few years later Constantine V died in mysterious circumstances, some claim he was poisoned, his son Leo IV became the new emperor and hi wife Irene became Empress. But again,  shortly after that, Leo died, also in mysterious circumstances.

After the death of Leo, Constantine VI became emperor, but he was only 8 years old, so his mother ruled the empire on his behalf with iron fist. She preferred to be address by her subordinates  as “Emperor” rather than “Empress” .

When Constantine was in age to marry, several marriage proposals were made by other kingdoms, among them, a marriage to one of Charlemagne’s daughters was proposed. However, Irene was hungry of power, and she feared losing her throne after the marriage of her son was consummated, so she cancelled and postpone any plans of wedding.

Always under the watchful eye of his controlling mother,  Constantine never developed his full potential, he was naïve and easy to manipulate. Eventually, politicians close to him convinced him of trying to claim his right to the throne over his mother and free himself from her; he was twenty year old at that time. But when Irene found out, she stopped him and forced him to take a pledge of alliance swearing unconditional loyalty to her.

But Irene was not satisfied with the pledge, she decided that her son had to go, she created a fake conspiracy to remove herself, and then she blamed it on to her son. Constantine was arrested, found guilty and sentenced to be blinded; his eyes were gouged out with a dagger and he died of his wounds several days later.

Irene continued to rule until the politicians tired of her excesses removed her and replaced her by the minister of finance who became the new emperor.

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